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13.12.05

Thomas Meglioranza at the Phillips

By my count, the last concert that I reviewed was Hilary Hahn, before Thanksgiving. Here's to the end of a long concert drought. I was definitely feeling musically deprived.

Thomas MeglioranzaOn Sunday, before booking down to the Kennedy Center to hear Trio Mediæval, I went to the Phillips Collection. There was no snowstorm, no major holiday, no terrorist threat that weekend, and so I thought that I had the time wrong when I walked into the museum's beautiful little Music Room and found it not overflowing with people waiting to hear the free Sunday concert. In contrast to most weekends, only about 40 people had assembled to hear a song recital by baritone Thomas Meglioranza, whose latest accomplishment was to win second prize at this year’s esteemed Naumburg International Vocal Competition.

One of the things that Lieder singers have to do is sing well in many languages, and Meglioranza's program allowed him to show off his Italian, German, French, and English diction, which was all quite good. A solo voice recital is limited in its range of color -- one voice, a piano -- and so a certain diversity of song types is also desirable. Meglioranza's strength, it seemed to me, was in comic songs, like the rather absurd set of Metastasio lyrics set by none other than Franz Schubert that opened the program, and the hilarious set of songs by young American composer Derek Bermel. The voice is supple, well-scaled, not overpowering but with strength where necessary. There was never a hint of stridency or forced production, and he gave an impression of relaxed ease with his instrument that was inviting. That he is also an intelligent musician was also evident, in the attention given to the choice of poetry and music and in the remarks that he gave about each set of songs, to compensate for the lack of program notes.

Meglioranza put that sense of humor to good use in the set of idiosyncratic songs by Charles Ives. The first and best in this set was the beautiful "Tom Sails Away," on a wistful poem by Ives himself, mixing childhood memories with sadness at seeing his brother go off to war (with a tongue-in-cheek reference to the George M. Cohan song "Over There" at the end). On either side of the brief intermission were settings of poems by Paul Verlaine, first by Gabriel Fauré and then by Claude Debussy. Both composers wrote excellent settings of the poem "En sourdine" (from the collection Les fêtes galantes), which were accompanied so well by Meglioranza's associate, pianist Reiko Uchida, always supportive and almost disconcertingly light of touch at times. Both Meglioranza and Uchida shone in the set of three songs by Derek Bermel, a chameleon of styles, shifting from a sort of perverse accordion waltz in "Spider Love," with a hint of music theater, to the pointillistic dissonant touches of "Mushrooms," and the odd cantillation of "Dog." The encore of Marc Blitzstein's The New Suit -- a favorite dinner party piece of Leonard Bernstein and the conclusion of Meglioranza's Naumburg program -- was a perfect fit for Meglioranza's expressive face and witty approach.

I first came into contact with this singer because he was one of the growing rank of singer-bloggers, with Anne-Carolyn, Melissa, Mezzogregory, et al. However, as pointed out by a certain former blogger who contributes to the comments here frequently and now prefers to remain anonymous, one of those singer-bloggers, Canadienne in Chicago, has hung up her blogging hat because of career concerns. Well, happily for all of us, Tom Meglioranza is still blogging at tomness, a very entertaining blog about music and food.

According to his blog, he returned to New York the same night after the recital, and the hardship of traveling has got to be trying. In a follow-up post he related some thoughts on how he felt about the recital. It's true about the audience's reactions to his commentary during this recital. In the first Schubert set, when Meglioranza said, "I hope you like the rest of these songs," an older man in a suit in front of me replied loudly -- sincerely or cynically, I can't say -- "Thank you!" It was a strange audience vibe, even from my perspective as part of the audience. As announced recently in The New Yorker, Tom Meglioranza is back in New York this week to sing Messiah at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue. Come back to Washington soon, Tom!

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